by Stephen Mifsud
   15 Jul 2024      ()
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Delphinium halteratum   (Winged Larkspur)

Delphinium halteratum  (RANUNCULACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
Species Images External Links
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Profile Date July-2006 (taxon update: July-2006)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (2022). Delphinium halteratum - datasheet created on July-2006. Retrieved from on 15-Jul-2024


Species name :

Delphinium halteratum  Sm.

Authority :

John Sibthorp, United Kingdom, (1758 - 1796) ;
James Edward Smith, United Kingdom, (1759 - 1828)

Synonyms :
(basionym or principal syn.)

Delphinium longipes Moris
Full list of synonyms : [Euro+Med] [PlantList] [IPNI] [POWO] [Catalogue of Life] []

Plant Family :

Ranunculaceae  Juss.
(Buttercup Family)

English name(s) :

Winged Larkspur

Maltese name(s) :

Sieq il-ħamiema

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Delphinium: The name is derived from the resemblance of the bud or flower to the head of a miniature dolphin (=delphinus). (Latin origin ); 2 = The name is derived from the resemblance of the unopened flower to the head of a dolphin (Latin);.
halteratum: Derivation unknown, but possibly referring to alteratum (altered) for the altered (= resembling) or 'not exactly the same' shape of the flower with the shape of a dolphin. (Latin origin ); 2 = Derivation not known.

Remarks :

Morphology and structure



Growth Form





Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)








Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin




Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals



5 + 4

5 perianth segments (4 petaloid, 1 spurred) plus 4 honey leaves (2 petaloid, 2 spurred).

1 (Fused sepals)

A single unit, cup-shaped structure.


  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







The flower consists of 5 perianth segments of which 4 are small and petal-like and the other has the shape of a long spur with a slightly curved up end. There are also 4 'honey-leaves', 2 of which are yellow and spurred, both inserted in the perianth spur and the other two are petaloid with long, narrow claws. The overall shape is similar to that of a snapdragon flower.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes


None or very Faint

20mm x 4mm x 8mm

(Length x Breadth x Depth).

Yolk Yellow




No. Per Fruit







They look to consist of radiating flaps stacked on each other and have a hole at their flattened base.




Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes



(turns to straw colour when fully ripe).



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

THEROPHYTE (annual plants, herbaceous)


Fallow or post-harvested fields or field tracks.



Localities in Malta:

Infrequent: found for example at Ta' Xbiex, Qrendi and Nadur Tower (Malta).

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Not legally protected till the last update of this website (2/Mar/2022)

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


Larkspur is a herbaceous plant with a developed taproot and few basal branches each being further sub-branched at their lower-middle part. The stems are slender, pale green, rigid, and covered with short, white hair (=pubescent). Under a magnifying glass, the hairs are seen to be apressed to the stem.

The leaves are rather variable for this plant. Generally, the leaves of young plants are tri-lobed digitate, each segment being more or less linear with a blunt-pointed tip. Some plants varies by having simple, undivided leaves, hence with a linear shape. Upper leaves are often also unlobed, and the same can be said for both the flowering bracts and the leaves remaining in plants at their flowering-fruiting phase.

Leaf length varies from 6mm (at the upper flowering part) to 25mm long (adult leaves) while the width of the simple leaves or leaf segment is only about 2-3mm. All leaves are sessile, have an entire margin, and during the hotter weeks, the leaves are found apressed with the stems. All branches and flowers are produced from the axil of a subtending leaf.

The inflorescence is a lax raceme with 3 to 25 flowers, sometimes up to 50. There is a pair of tiny, linearly-shaped bracteoles through which the flower outgrows. The calyx is a tiny (3mm), cone-shaped structure.

The flower shape of this buttercup member is not typically as a typical buttercup! It is a zygomorphic, long-spurred, violet-blue flower looking more like a snapdragon at a first glance. It is composed of 5 pubescent, perianth segments and an additional 4 glabrous, petal-like segments referred to as "honey leaves" or "nectariferous petals". The 4 lower perianth segments are 7mm long, identical petaloid structures, while the 5th upper segment is modified into a spur. This is about 14-15mm long, slightly curved up and with a winged opening. The 4 honey leaves are arranged in 2 pairs. The upper pair have spurs which are inserted (joined inside) with the larger perianth spur. These have a yellowish colour and so are the ones responsible for giving the flower that 'hint of yellow'. The other lower pair of honey leaves are free, characterised by a rounded limb (2mm across), and an abruptly narrowing and long claw (5mm long). These have a somehow prominent venation.

The reproductive organs consists of a green pistil surrounded by a cluster of stamens, all caged by the 4 perianth segments. The stamens have yellow anthers while the pistil has 3 hair-thin styles.

The fruit is a set of 3 upright, bulging follicles with a pointed tip, (=the persistent style). The mature follicle is about 8-9mm long and 2mm thick. Each follicle holds about 6-8 black seeds, each being semi-spherical or conical, 1.5mm in diameter and with a characteristic hole at the base. Under the microscope, they look to be composed of radiating flaps stacked on each other.

Information, uses and other details

Nativity and distribution

This plant is reported to be present in the following Mediterranean countries: France, Spain, Italy. This info is gathered while browsing several sites about this species. It is possibly distributed throughout the whole mediterranean region. [SM]. According reference [380] the plant has originated from South-West Europe upto Eastern Italy.

Ornamental Delphiniums

This is a large group of very beautiful annuals and perennials commonly called Larkspurs. The original or wild types from which the named varieties are descended are natives of California, Siberia, Syria and India. The Delphiniums mostly seen in gardens are hybrids of D. elatum and are clump-forming perennials that bloom from early to mid-summer. Their leaves are divided, lobed, and range from mid- to bright green. Hybrids of D. belladonna are also clump-forming perennials, but with more thin, wiry stems that produce branched spikes of spurred flowers. Dwarf annual Delphiniums are descended from D. Ajacis and tall annual Larkspurs from D. Consolida. The height of the different varieties ranges from 3 to 8 feet, with some dwarf varieties only growing up to 18 inches high. The flowers of these plants grow in long spikes. They are cup-shaped and may be single or double with colors ranging from creamy-whites through lilac-pinks to dark indigo-blue, usually with a contrasting "eye" formed by the inner sepals. D. 'Strawberry Fair' has large, semi-double, mulberry-pink flowers with white eyes on plants that grow 5.5 to 6 feet high. D. 'Sungleam' has large, semi-double, white overlaid with pale yellow flowers with yellow eyes. D. 'Blue Nile' grows from 5 to 5.5 feet high and produces large, semi-double rich, dark blue flowers with blue-streaked white eyes. D. grandiflorum 'Blue Butterfly' only grows 18 inches high and has single, dark blue flowers, growing 1.5 inches across. They are produced in airy, branching spikes up to 6 inches long. The bright green leaves are palmately divided. D. 'Spindrift' is an interesting plant with large, semi-double flowers that grow in 3-foot long spikes. They are a pinkish-lilac color overlaid with pale blue with creamy-white eyes, which have a deep blue center. On acidic soils, the petals become tinged with green. Other kinds will be described below in the varieties section. [WWW-43]

The genus Delphinium, or Larkspur, is a very showy family of herbs found in the temperate regions of the Northern hemisphere. Several species are familiar in flower-gardens, the most common being Delphinium Consolida and Delphinium Ajacis. The flowers of all the species have a peculiar, odd shape (see Fig. 65), which enables the plants of the genus to be easily distinguished. Those who are familiar with the cultivated Larkspur will recognize the wild species on sight. [WWW-18]

Traditional Uses

The seeds of many Delphinium seeds has been used for long time to make an insecticide. [WWW-27] Although there is no direct reference for D. halteratum, there are some examples of Delphinium species of which details how the seeds were used as insecticide are given. The species listed are: D. ajacis, D. brunonianum, D. caeruleum, D. consolida and D. staphisagria.

For example: preparations of the seeds of Delphinium Staphisagriae have a long history of use in the treatment of scabies and for killing head lice but have largely fallen out of use in Western medicine with the development of less toxic acaricides and insecticides. Ethnobotanical surveys suggest that the preparations of the plant continue to be used as pediculicides in traditional medical practice. An alcoholic solution from the seeds was applied to the heads of several children as a pediculicide. One child developed acute dermatitis of the face and hands three days after the application. [WWW-27]

Delphinium ajacis is another example. Formerly, this plant had a reputation for its ability to consolidate and heal wounds, while the juice from the leaves is considered to be a remedy for piles and an infusion of the flowers and leaves has been used as a remedy for colicky children. However, the whole plant is very poisonous and it should not be used internally without the guidance of an expert. Externally, it can be used as a parasiticide. A tincture of the seed is applied externally to kill lice in the hair. [WWW-139]


Several references give an account about the poisonous effects of Delphinium species leading even to fatality! [WWW-26, WWW-11, WWW-123] . [WWW-24] states that the most species affected by Delphinium toxicity are cattle, goatsa nad humans. All parts of the plant are poisonous and the primary poisons are the alkaloids delphinine and ajacine amongst others [WWW-24, WWW-123] . Symptoms include burning of lips and mouth, numbness of throat; intense vomiting and diarrhea, muscular weakness and spasms, weak pulse, paralysis of the respiratory system, convulsions; and fatal if an excess is consumed. [WWW-123] .

Medical Uses (general notes)

The Delphinium plant mostly used in medicine is the Delphinium Staphisagria (Stavesacre) of Southern Europe. It is a tall, coarse herb with an unpleasant odor, and grows wild in the Mediterranean regions. The part mostly used is the seeds, and their virtues seem to reside in alkaloidal principles (Delphinine, Staphisagrine ...) that are found in the shell of the seeds. The drug is derived mostly from Trieste. Perhaps the greater part however of the medicine used in this country is the so-called "German tincture," imported from Germany (where the plant does not grow). The drug has been officinally recognized in the last Pharmacopoeia under the name of Staphisagria. [WWW-18] Delphinium Staphisagria is used extensively by Eclectic physicians, we reproduce from Prof. Scudder's Specific Medication, as follows:

"The tincture of Staphisagria has a specific action on the reproductive organs of both male and female; but more marked in the first. It quiets irritation of the testes, and strengthens their function; it lessens irritation of the prostrate and vesiculae; arrests prostatorrhoea and cures inflammation of these parts. It also exerts a marked influence upon the urethra, quieting irritation and checking mucous, or muco-purulent discharges; it influences the bladder and kidneys, but in a less degree.

"The action of Staphisagria upon the nervous system is peculiar. It exerts a favorable influence where there is depression of spirits and despondence, in cases of hypochondriasis and hysteria, especially when attended with moroseness and violent outbursts of passion."

In addition, we offer the following synopsis, by Prof. Stillé, of the medical uses of the species, Delphinium consolida and Delphinium Staphisagria, and no doubt our native species will conform in properties.

"They have been used in the treatment of dropsy and spasmodic asthma, generally in the form of a tincture, which has been much employed as a lotion, or as an ointment for the destruction of lice. These effects are due to the alkaloid delphinine." [WWW-18]

Specific studies on Delphinium halteratum has not been found [SM]

Cultivation of Delphiniums (general notes)

Larkspurs need deeply dug, fertile, moist soil that is well-drained and a position in full sun with shelter from strong winds. Decayed manure or compost should be mixed into the lower soil and compost and bone meal with the upper layer. Planting may be done in early fall or spring. They should be placed 2 or 3 feet apart according to the eventual height of the variety. These plants, except for the dwarf varieties, will need to be staked; the lower growing hybrids with twiggy sticks and the taller ones with stakes or "grow-through" supports. The supports should be inserted by the time the plants reach a foot high to prevent damage. While they are growing actively, especially in the spring and early summer, they need a lot of water and weekly applications of a balanced liquid fertilizer. The shoots should be thinned out to 2 or 3 on young plants and 5 to 7 on established plants, once they have reached 3 inches in height. This promotes high quality flowers. When the flowers die, cut back the spikes to the smaller, branching sideshoots. Well-fed and watered plants will produce a second, smaller crop of flowers in late summer. All growth on the perennials should be cut back in the fall. When Delphiniums begin to grow in the spring, the young shoots are susceptible to attack from slugs, especially in weather that is damp or wet. Old sifted ashes placed around and among the shoots will protect them from serious damage. A mixture of equal parts of copper sulphate and hydrated lime on the soil around, but not touching the plants will also protect them. It is beneficial, if every spring, decayed manure and bone meal is placed around the plants and forked lightly into the ground. Perennial and annual Larkspurs may be grown as pot plants in greenhouses that have full exposure to the sun. They should be grown in light, well drained, fertile soil. These plants provide beautiful cut flowers. [WWW-43]

Personal Observations

Delphinium halteratum getting more scarce
In my opinion, this plant is decreasing from our islands, because in older reports about the Maltese flora, this plant was described as a rather common plant of fallow fields and arable zones [332], while in recent publications, it is mentioned to have become infrequent and even rare in several localities by some authors [380]. I think the latter is quite true as in fact I have not encountered this plant much. One can easily arrive to logical conclusions to this decrease: 1) the reduction of arable land during the last few decades, and b) the application of herbicides and other methods to eliminate weeds from agricultural fields. Being an annual, the winged larkspur is rather easy to eridicate from a field. [SM]
The beauty of this plant
Apart from the fact that this plant forms numerous, elegant flowers (including the cute dolphin-shaped buds!) of an intense violet colour, its beauty also resides in the fact that it is one of the few plants found flowers in June-July where most wild plants in Malta are out of season. Populations can be seen in fallow and empty fields perhaps along with some Convolvulus arvensis or Polygonum spp. [SM]

Links & Further literature (1 papers)

Google Web

Google Images

Google Scholar

Research Gate




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



World Flora Online

Plants of the World Online

Vienna Virt. Herb.

RBGE Herbarium

KEW Herbarium




Nomenclatural revision of Delphinium subg. Consolida (DC.) Huth (Ranunculaceae) DuPasquier et al.  (2021)
Kindly Email if there are papers and publications about local studies or information about this species to be included in the list above.

Photo Gallery   (33 Images)

Photo of the inflorescence - a lax raceme.
Photo of the raceme which can hold from 3 to 30 flowers, and in some exceptional cases even more.
Photo of the flowering part of the plant showing green fruit at the lower part, followed by mature flowers, and pale coloured buds at the apex.
Flowers look to resemble those of snapdragons (Scrophulariacea) rather than buttercups (Ranunculaceae).
Photo of another raceme holding 11 flowers.
Photo of violet-blue flowers with a hint of yellow.
Close up photo of flowers revealing that the perianth segments (spur and lower petals) are covered with white tiny hairs, while the honey leaves are glabrous.
Close up photo of flowers. The yellow part of the flower is given by spur-shaped honey leaves (glabrous) inserted in the larger spurred perianth segment (pubescent).
Close up photo showing the main flowering parts. Reproductive organs enclosed by the petals.
Side view photo of flower with its characteristic re-curved spur measuring about 15mm in length.
Photo of flower with some of the lower perianth segments removed to show the cluster of stamen with broad, yellow anthers. One can also note the 3 styles between the stamens.
Photo of an old flower.
Close up photo of a flower - front view. The honey leaves are well shown from this position, 2 yellow ones inserted in the spur and 2 just beneath having a petal-like shape with somehow prominent venation.
Close up photo with annotations indicating the main flowering parts, that is 5 perianth segments and 4 'honey-leaves'.
Top view photo of raceme.
Photo of buds having a pale yellow colour and the shape of a dolphin's head (hence the genus name - Delphinium).
Scanned image of a bud, flower and fruit.
Scanned image of a flowering raceme. Flowers have a short pedicel.
Scanned and enlarged image of two flowers. Note the two tiny and opposite bracteoles just below the corolla.
Scanned and annotated image of a dissected flower showing the flowering parts and reproductive organs.
Scanned image of stamen - a cluster of about 12-25.
Photo of plant in its habitat, a fallow land in early Summer.
Photo of a mature plant showing the branched stems at the lower part, the violet-blue flowers, the buds (pale yellow) and the fruit.
Photo of another plant in situ. In hotter climates, adult plants retain only the simple (undivided) leaves found apressed to the stem. These have a linear shape and are pubescent.
Photo of unripe fruit, still green in colour.
Photo of fruit found upright and alternating on the stem.
Close up photo of a maturing fruit. It consists of a set of 3 follicles having a bulging body due to the row of seeds inside. They have a pointed tip (before serving as the style).
Close up photo of a ripe fruit with one of the follicles open so as the stored seeds are liberated out.
Photo of ripe fruit in situ.
Scanned image of fruit showing well their morphological detail.
Scanned image of fruit, individual follicles and some of the seeds they store. There is about 7-8 seeds per follicle.
Scanned and enlarged image of the black seeds. They are conical in shape with a characteristic hole in the flattened base. Diameter not more than 2mm.
Image of seeds under stereo microscope. The outer surface looks to consist of of radiating flaps or appendages stacked over each other.